In the beginning hunter-gatherers collected berries, roots, plants, stones for flints and animal skins. Collecting was for survival, not for its own sake for the One. We no longer need to collect for survival, and collecting for enjoyment has taken over. Enjoyment. Pleasure principle. Eros. What we have is who we are.
Some people claim to collect for investment purposes, but I believe this is really for prestige, self-identity - I collect therefore I am. We do not know who we are. If we cannot see our reality, then we cannot see our identity and therefore try to manufacture it through collecting stuff. Belonging s say what we want them to say in order to show who we are to ourselves and others the way we want to be seen. We can show off our impeccable taste, artistic worth, how much money we have through our stuff and how we display it. Precious objects allow us to manufacture a representation of who we are. Nice stuff, we think, implies that we are nice people.
We invest our time, our effort into our collections, thus to no longer have this collection is to no longer have part of ourselves, as we become part of our collection. Today we have to change with the times. We have to be/ become what others/ the job/ the man require. So we, as Baudrillard says, collect ourselves in order to become ourselves.
I leave the house early in the morning to go to a garage sale/op shop/ rubbish tip. The wind is icy and so are the roads. I meditate and become the warrior. I enter; head erect, aware of those around me, yet engaging with nobody. I size up the space, the stuff. What do I need, what do I want? I see a blanket/ doll/ jacket – it matters not what it is but as the beast of prey it is mine. I sense another looking at it with interest, regarding it as theirs. I walk swiftly, silently, careful not to show my interest, thus attracting another hunter. I pounce, the grasp of my hand denoting ownership. Ha! I won. It is mine. It is the thrill of the chase.
Collecting comforts us, but at the same time it is akin to hunting. What we collect is the trophy of our ‘kill’. Is collecting then derived from Eros or Thanatos? Life or death?
I like collecting. I like rescuing stuff from the bowels of the Treasure Room at Restore, or from the recycling centres at the rubbish dumps, or from various skips. I am their saviour, but in a sense they are mine – they allow me to use them to interpret my ideas. I like them to retain their status of ‘thingness’ or ‘thingification’ which “relates to the object as a balance of materiality, from which some information of a physical nature may be gleaned, and the cultural construction which demands that no assumptions are inferred.” ( Todman, 2009: http://www.axisweb.org/dlForum.aspx?ESSAYID=18040) However, in my work, the collections are less discrete collections and more the means to an end. Some remain in their original state, others are altered. I am not exploring collections, but using them to as a means to an end.
While this is most usually the preserve of museums, which preserve things, thereby both recording change and preserving the past (and ironically what is no more), we hold onto family heirlooms, valuable or not, in order to record our history and preserve and pass this on to our descendants.
According to The Online Etymology Dictionary , http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=nostalgia), the word “nostalgia” is derived from the Greek words “nostos” – homecoming "severe homesickness" (considered as a disease), and “algos” – grief, pain, distress. It was originally considered to be a malady, but now means "wistful yearning for the past". It is a disease I suffer from.
Far from being the pursuit of elderly lavender-scented ladies lamenting over their lost youth as they pore over raggedy scrapbooks, I see collecting as a dis/ease of the postmodern condition. Perhaps it is related to archive fever. Symptoms include anxiety and unsteadiness. We think the cure is to grasp onto objects that remind us of the past – our past. Old familiar stuff will make us safe.
Because history itself haunts modern society like a spectre, pseudo histories are constructed at every level of consumption of life in order to preserve the threatened equilibrium of present frozen time.
The great swing to conservatism in the western world, (Thatcherism, Reaganism, Rogernomics, for example) coincided, not coincidentally, with an upsurge in collecting, as well as garage sales and the like. These (not-so-new) right wing economic policies have (and still) lead to the poor getting poorer and the rich richer. Privatization and cuts in welfare spending have seen community spirit destroyed. Collecting has become the ‘new’ community.
According to relational theory, we are driven to make social connection with others. Collecting is one way of achieving this, although the opposite is also true: over-interaction with our objects can cause us to isolate ourselves. So, as collecting may bring people together, the implied excesses written into it can also separate those who collect from others.
None of us are feeling very good. Things are falling apart, including the ground beneath our feet; many of those who thought they were financially secure are now finding that they are not.
Collecting brings comfort through an altered state of consciousness caused by serotonin production, we are told. We escape, our minds wander. We are protected by our talismans We create an environment with our stuff/ our stuff creates an environment around us. We control it – does it control us?
We all carry wounds to a greater or lesser extent from our upbringing. I certainly have my share, despite (or because of) the so-called paradise of growing up in white South Africa.
So while collecting is a side effect of gross consumerism, we can also see it as being the taming of material culture. While the spectacle is voracious and encourages rapaciousness and greed, it is not necessarily all conquering. Resistance is still possible.
I want to subvert the consumerism of our society. At the bottom of the value system lie the discards of the spending imperative. To use and re-use these instead of succumbing, and to participate at the top of the value system is to be a saboteur, particularly if this is done as conscious choice. The less we need to use, the less the consumer can foist on us. So to make a conscious stand to use recycled objects and the detritus of society as my artistic statement is an act of resistance. It is ironic that I collect in order to subvert consumerism.
My stuff is my art, my art is my stuff. They are each part of the other. How I arrange my stuff changes this world that I control and try to understand.
A constructed world (as all worlds are) where we assume objectivity and assume boundaries I build a domestic world of a small part of my history into my collection of stuff, found and made. In this way, do I belatedly give myself some control over past experiences? sDoes my 21st-century diasporic re-enaction somehow disrupt the rhetoric surrounding her experience?